Without American leadership, the Arabs and Turks would be unable to put together a coherent program and might back groups we viewed as extreme and dangerous, and tied to al Qaeda. With American leadership, especially early on, we could have organized a coherent international effort to back nonjihadist Sunni rebels, make them stronger than their rivals, and enable them to fight against the regime and against al Qaeda-linked jihadists. Indeed the vacuum that sucked in jihadists from all over the world would never have been created. Nor is this 20-20 hindsight; there were plenty of people inside and outside the administration urging the more active policy for the United States.
But no argument could persuade the president. Advice and warnings from his subordinates fell on deaf ears, as the jihadist groups grew in power...Instead, Obama fumbled and grasped the helping hand of Vladimir Putin, who concocted a chemical weapons deal between Obama and Assad…
The chemical weapons deal gave Assad license to continue killing by any means other than chemical weapons, and he is using it. …The American strike that President Obama decided against at the last minute could have destroyed some of Assad’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, damaged their bases, degraded their ability to conduct such attacks, and given Assad a firm and credible warning to stop using airpower against civilian targets.
The Obama administration has a variety of excuses for its inaction. What can we do, after all? Would a jihadist victory be better than Assad? Small but growing elements of the foreign policy establishment are now echoing the line that we can’t after all allow al Qaeda to take over, so perhaps Assad is a necessary evil… If today’s choices are worse than yesterday’s, or those available in 2012 and most of 2013, that is because Obama decided to do nothing. ..
But the reputation that will in the end suffer most is Obama’s. He is presiding over a humanitarian disaster where war crimes and atrocities occur each day and he responds with speeches…. He is endangering our safety by allowing jihadists to turn Syria into their world center of activity. And over the next three years, he is likely to reap what he has sowed. The problem is, so will we.